Film Icons Emerge From the Shadows


It’s hooray for Hollywood--and hooray it’s not a hazy day.

The newest salute to Tinseltown is a solar-powered homage to classic movies that artist-architect Cameron McNall plans to unveil today, provided the weather cooperates.

McNall has created a series of billboard-size rooftop cutouts that cast shadow images of famous film scenes on the empty walls of nearby buildings when the sun is just right.

If his depictions of the cowboys from “The Wild Bunch,” the airplane chasing Cary Grant in “North by Northwest,” motorcyclists Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in “Easy Rider” and frames from four other films are a hit, McNall could end up casting a giant shadow of his own across Hollywood.


“It’s low-tech art for a high-tech area,” marveled Christine Purse as McNall’s first silhouette “sculpture” took shape late Wednesday afternoon across from LaserPacific Media Corp., where she is an executive. “There are no lights. No electronics. Just the sun.”

McNall, 45, finished bolting the final aluminum cut-out cowboy onto a metal frame atop Purse’s post-production company headquarters minutes before the setting sun slowly cast the scene’s shadow on the wall of the RenMar Studios across Cahuenga Boulevard.

“It’s not like art in a museum,” admitted McNall as he watched images from Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 “The Wild Bunch” stride silently across the studio wall.

“The sound stage behind this art is mute. This art tells what goes on behind those walls. Studios are artificial edifices that create ethereal images. That’s what this is doing.”


The interplay of light and shadows has long intrigued McNall, a West Los Angeles resident who is a professor at UCLA’s Design/Media Arts Department. A sculpture installation of his in New York in 1987 used translucent panels to capture shadows.

“I think of the light in Los Angeles as a darkness protruding from light,” he said. “In New York, it’s light that is protruding from darkness.”

McNall said he decided to use movie icons as “temporary sculptures” to illustrate Los Angeles’ unique relationship of light and shadows. In Hollywood’s busy studio production area between Vine Street, Melrose and La Brea avenues, and Santa Monica Boulevard, he found low-rise buildings that created the perfect backdrop.

He lined up $15,000 in grants from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and the California Arts Council before approaching officials with his “Shadow Project” proposal. Quick endorsements were received from the Hollywood Media District, Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti and the Hollywood Arts Council.


“It’s just an amazing project. You’re not going to look up and see it. It’s reflected on the other buildings. It will move and grow with the sun’s movement. It’s static in one way but very kinetic in another,” said Nyla Arslanian, arts council president.

McNall said it was surprisingly easy to persuade building owners to let him use their roofs.

Robert Davis, secretary-treasurer of the studio utility employees’ union Local 724, said McNall showed him computer-generated depictions of what the shadow of the “North by Northwest” scene on his office rooftop would look like at the corner of Melrose and Citrus avenues.

Davis said some people have voiced fears that the metal frame erected on his roof might be for an advertising billboard. But they relaxed when he told them that the shadow project “will draw attention to Hollywood in a positive way,” Davis said.


The 3-month-long Shadow Project will be initiated with a reception at 4:30 p.m. today at “The Wild Bunch” installation at 809 N. Cahuenga Ave. Other installations are “The Magnificent 7" at Citrus Avenue and Romaine Street; “Warlock” at Seward Street and Waring Avenue; “Easy Rider” at Seward near Romaine; “Casablanca” at Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilcox Avenue; and “One Million Years, B.C.” at Santa Monica and Lillian Way.